Are you Jealous of Jesus?

iStock_000003913257SmallFor many the question will sound ludicrous or perhaps even blasphemous. But for some of you I’ve just touched on an unspoken gnawing in your soul.

You couldn’t put words to what was going on in your heart, but jealous of Jesus seems to fit. You may wonder, “How can I be jealous of Jesus? I’ve known him since I was a kid. I’ve spent my whole life in church. I’ve served Him in every way imaginable: Sunday school teacher, missions committee, choir, kid’s ministry, nursery ministry, visitation.”

Yes, like the Jews before you, you might have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Romans when he shares his ongoing prayer and desire that his fellow Jews be saved. (10:1) He laments that “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (10:2)

This was his own testimony as he described who he once was to the saints in Philippi: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:4b-6)

Paul, like many of his countrymen, pursued the law as if it were based on works and not by faith. Unfortunately, we can do that, too, and it leads us to the same end: stumbling over Jesus.

Coming to Jesus is terrible for our pride. For we need to see ourselves as “unclean, and all our righteous deeds… like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6) I was challenged anew when my husband recently prayed, “There is no righteousness in me apart from Jesus.”

That is a hard thing to recognize, especially when you’ve been in church since your first memory: memorizing scripture, singing about Jesus, avoiding a list of sins, and generally seeing yourself as “a good person.”

Even believers in Christ can be tempted to desert the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ and turn to another “gospel.” God provided Paul’s letter to the Galatians in His Scripture to warn us of this type of turning from justification by faith to justification by works.

Paul declares, “…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (2:16) And he asked the Galatians a pointed question, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (3:2) The answer, according to the Word, is that we receive the Spirit by hearing through faith, “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)

When we submit to this truth, we will be grateful to, not jealous of, Jesus and His righteousness.

Finishing Well

The first time I heard of Demas was twenty years ago as a college student on a missions project. Chuck, the director of our eighty-student team, had been teaching us from the book of 2 Timothy all summer.

As he came to the small verse in chapter four about Demas, who was in love with this present world, he cautioned us that statistically half of us would not be walking with Jesus in twenty years.

His statistic shocked me. I couldn’t imagine any of us not walking with the Lord in 2013. I was sobered by the thought as I learned more about Demas, the man mentioned three times in the pages of Scripture. First when Paul calls him his fellow worker in Philemon 1:24. Second, as he sends his greetings to the believers in Colossi (Colossians 4:14), and finally, as he deserts Paul in 2 Timothy 4:10 because he loved this present world.

Unfortunately, his story isn’t unfamiliar. Nearly every one knows an unfaithful pastor or someone who has turned from the faith they once professed.

Paul, in his final letter to Timothy, encourages him to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2:1) while leaving the young pastor some examples to ponder: the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer.

The soldier, having separated himself from the entanglement of civilian pursuits, aims to please the one who enlisted him. Paul understood that he was “set apart for for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1) and aimed to live a life that pleased his Savior, Jesus Christ. Knowing he was near death, Paul confidently asserts, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7). He was a good soldier; Demas was not.

iStock_000010543520SmallConsider an athlete. He is “not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). Many accomplished athletes in our day have had their medals confiscated and their wins stripped when the truth that they have cheated comes to light. But Paul assures Timothy, “I have finished the race.” By remaining “steadfast under trial,” (James 1:12) and firm until the end, Paul demonstrated the authenticity of his faith. Demas did not.

Jesus, the author and finisher of true faith, taught in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) that those who had a root in themselves would fall away. Paul was not one who fell away, because his faith was rooted in Jesus.

“The hard-working farmer…ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6). A good farmer is both hard-working and full of faith. For unless God provides the growth, the farmer’s hard work would be fruitless. At each harvest the faith and diligence of the farmer is rewarded. “Farmer Paul” was fruitful—he kept the faith.

May it never be said of us, as it was said of Demas, that we loved this present world. May we, like Paul, be rooted in Christ and finish well.

Receiving Jesus

iStock_000000893223SmallThe spotlight of the world was on Cleveland, Ohio when news broke that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight had been found—alive. Each of the girls were allegedly kidnapped, over a decade ago, by Ariel Castro, and enslaved in his Seymour Avenue home as their childhoods passed.

When faced with the reality of such wickedness many ask, “Where was God?” “Why did He allow this?” “Doesn’t He care?” Yet we know from Scripture that God is not absent. He allows things we don’t un

derstand, and He cares very, very much about how children are treated.

God knows every detail of every minute Amanda, Gina, and Michelle were enslaved by this stranger, and He knows each child who is sinned against in the middle of night in the “comfort” of their own home.

In the face of his own oppression, the psalmist David cried, “Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous—you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God! My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.” (Psalm 7:9-11)

According to Merriam-Webster.com, indignation is “anger aroused by something unjust, unworthy, or mean.” Our God feels anger every single day!

David warns, “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.” (Psalm 7:12-13)

If you are the one out of four women, or the one out of six men who was abused before your eighteenth birthday, God knows, and His indignation burns. Trust that in time He will judge the unrepentant—those who never place their faith in Jesus Christ. But until then, take comfort in the truth that what your abuser meant for evil, God intends to use for your good when you find your rest in Him. (Genesis 50:19, Romans 8:28)

As teachers or clergy we must recognize that most children will never tell us what is happening to them. But by knowing the potential indicators of abuse and neglect, we may hear their silent screams for help and rescue them from a childhood of abuse. We can receive a child in Christ’s name, knowing we are really receiving Him.hose who never place their faith in Jesus Christ. But until then, take comfort in the truth that what your abuser meant for evil, God intends to use for your good when you find your rest in Him. (Genesis 50:19, Romans 8:28)

The battle is spiritual: Satan hates children. He is the thief who wants to steal, kill, and destroy. But Jesus loves kids, and the light of His Word brings hope and healing to those oppressed by sin.

God forbid if you are abusing a child—Repent! The evil you are perpetrating is not hidden from His eyes. He knows, yet He is choosing to offer you forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ. Will you receive Jesus today?

Authentic Rest

As a Bible teacher, I meet a number  of worn-out women wanting to know why they aren’t experiencing rest. These women know the promise in Matthew 11, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” but they look at their lives and think God hasn’t delivered.

iStock_000020518216XSmall

Perhaps you’ve had the same thought. You’ve read the passage in Matthew and expect life to be easy. But life is hard. You find yourself expecting God to fix your problems, but you’re up to your neck in problems.

The same Jesus who promised rest also promised difficulties. “In this world you will have tribulation.” Rest and problems going together, how can that be? Worn-out Christians everywhere want to know, “Where is the rest?”

When we think of rest, we tend to  picture a week with no pressures or responsibilities, often on the beach or at some remote cabin. But is that the rest Christ promised.

When Jesus invited, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden…” He wasn’t talking to Christians; He was talking to Jews—Jews who were laboring under the law to be righteous, heavy laden under the traditions of the Pharisees who taught their rules as if they came from God Himself.

Jesus is inviting these Jewish people to Him for the rest we call salvation, not the rest we call vacation. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)

Authentic rest for our souls is given at salvation, when our sins are forgiven and we are given Christ’s righteousness.

Has Jesus Christ delivered on His promise of rest? Absolutely! Has He also delivered on His promise of tribulation? Absolutely!

What a joy it is to see former worn-out women, once embittered with God, develop grateful hearts. They now have a right understanding of Christ’s promised rest along with realistic expectations about earthly tribulations.

Accurately knowing and sharing the promised rest of the gospel is essential. Sadly, there are many in our churches who are weary and heavy laden because they, like the Jews before them, are struggling to be righteous under the law. The law can’t make us righteous; only faith in Christ can justify us.

Let’s invite the weary, worn-out people around us to come to Jesus, to find authentic rest for their souls.

Growing Through Struggles

Although we know from Scripture that God uses trials to both test our faith and produce steadfastness in our lives, how we tend to adore the comfortable life! Yet James invites us, even commands us, to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds.”

To the unbelieving world trials are the antithesis of joy. To eyes enlighten by faith, they are the doorway to steadfastness.

If your eyes are on your light and momentary afflictions—your wounds,  your hurts, your disappointments—you might be tempted to believe the lie that God has forgotten you and demand that he prove Himself to you in ways He has never promised.

As I shared last month, making demands of God is nothing new. It began the moment the forbidden fruit was eaten in the garden. Since then, each of us have had expectations of what God should do, along with when and how He should accomplish it.

Flower in the DesertConstant and unyielding demands flow from people who do not recognize God and His ways. However, we are people who know God and if we don’t understand His ways, He invites us to ask. God will provide the wisdom we need to remain steadfast under trial.

I am reminded of a Christmas letter my husband and I sent to family and friends shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. Allow me to share some of it with you.

Since I was diagnosed, I have felt a confidence in my heart that my cancer was for God’s glory and our faith, and it has proven to be so. God is using this trial to refine us. We have grown in ways we would not have grown had we not walked this road that required we trust God’s word more than our feelings.

We have clung to His promises that “He will never leave [us] or forsake [us]” (Hebrews 13:5) and that He “causes all things to work together for good to those that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Our feelings don’t always align with the truth. But throughout this year, we have been learning anew that God is faithful to us, even when our circumstances are not what we would have chosen or expected. We have discovered that trials are necessary because we do not walk easily into maturity.

What trial are you facing? Remember, God is using it for good to produce steadfastness in you. By faith, choose to count it all joy.